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Oversight in the jungle
April, 05th 2007

Good governance trickles down as positive results that benefit the common man, while poor governance distils as colourful words and phrases in public lexicon. For instance, in Indonesia, `politik uang' or `money politics' refers to fears that `local elections for regional heads and decision-making processes are bought', as Bert Hofman and Kai Kaiser write in an essay included in Decentralization and Local Governance in Developing Countries (

Similarly, "Local politicians in executive and legislature are accused of failing to heed the political aspirations of the wider public (politik elit)," and "the new local heads are perceived to have started acting like little kings (raja kecil) who are not accountable to central authorities, local parliaments, or local constituencies."

Rent seeking is spreading, they say, `because many new politicians are taking their turn at the trough' (`many hands' or campur tangan). "Cigarette money (uang rokok) continues to denote the pervasive petty corruption that most Indonesians face in daily life."

The book, edited by Pranab Bardhan and Dilip Mookherjee, is about `increasing devolution of political and economic power to local government', and has case studies of decentralisation in eight countries Bolivia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda.

A chapter titled `local government in the jungle' by Jean-Paul Faguet speaks of OC (oversight committee) `composed of representatives of grassroots organisations within each municipality'. The author says that the OC's power lies in its natural moral authority, as well as the ability to suspend disbursements from central to local government if it judges that funds are being misused. Investment planning is discussed in village-level assemblies; "these meetings were reported to be extremely open and participatory (`even animals can attend', in the words of one respondent)."

The editors have penned a chapter on West Bengal. "There is a tendency to use local panchayats by the central committees at the state level as an instrument of political mobilisation and cultivation of political clientelism at the local level," they write. "This explains the partisan character of distribution of resources at the local level by the Gram Panchayats, combined with centralised party control of interregional allocation of development funds."

A chapter on decentralisation in Uganda asserts that for local democracy to work, citizens must not only be well informed about their government but also must use this information to penalise officials who do not respond to citizens' concerns by voting against them or participating in other political action. `The most worrisome finding', according to the authors, is that 70 per cent of Ugandans use community leaders as their main source of information on local politics. A study using regression analysis finds that people who rely on community leaders for news are `eleven percentage points less likely to have heard reports of corruption than people who rely on the media as their main source of information."

A book that highlights the role that accountability plays in the success of decentralisation.

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